Bouyed by success on both my first proper E5 and my first British 6b onsight, prior to our rest day, I decide to try the 3-star E5 6a at today’s Hebridean crag.
The Magician begins with an insecure move to what looks like a decent ledge, the only protection being an RP. Unfortunately the RP is too low to really keep you off the boulders should you fluff it, but psychological protection is better than none at all. The holds are also affected by seepage and are unpleasantly greasy. This is not ideal, but I reason that if I can sketch through this section, we’ll be rewarded by some amazing climbing above. The route soars 40 metres up an obvious crack line which steepens out beyond vertical at the top.
I climb up and down a few times, unsure. I dowse the holds in chalk and wonder why the good ledge gets further away when I’m on the rock. Eventually I unlock a sequence. A high left toe on a pointy little nubbin lets me sit on my foot to chalk the next sidepull. Believing it, I commit, and am rewarded with a good flatty and a solid wire. We’re in.
I go on up for 10 metres or so, placing plenty of gear, thankful that there actually is some now. The next crux looks to be a rightwards traverse out from under a little roof with smeary feet and sidepulls. Although most of the route is bone dry, I seem to have found another seepage line and the holds are greasy. I place a suspicious nut behind a flaky flat hold, and a decent blue alien in a thin crack. The flaky flat hold becomes my foothold, and proceeds to crumble incrementally as I weight it.
Eventually I begin a delicate sequence rightwards. Trusting the smears I reach for the next sidepull. I am careful to hold the barn-door, but the sidepull snaps and down I go. The decent blue alien blew, but the suspicious nut stuck. A lower cam also blew. 1 out of 3 is fine, right?
I improve the gear and lower off for a ground-up attempt. I’m not particularly keen to repeat the start but with gear in-situ and the sequence sussed out it should be fine. The holds are wet again, so more chalk is needed. I weight my left foot on the pointy little nubbin and this time it crumbles under me. I downclimb, but after several false starts I eventually manage to make a different and slightly worse foothold work for me. The quickdraw tantalisingly stroking my hair helps.
Back to my high point. Hold the barn-door. I step gingerly onto a ledge, arrange some gear, and exhale. The next bit looks delicate, but my confidence in the security of this rock has been seriously undermined by now. Footholds routinely crumble away, and pulling on thin flakes now seems a ridiculous proposition. Who knew gneiss could be so chossy? I procrastinate.
Eventually I manage a few balancy moves up. Looking around I find no gear and no real holds above. I’m off route. Keep it together. I get back down to the ledge with difficulty, and try the more rightward line I had spied.
Now approaching what is evidently the crux of this neverending expedition, the crack rears out above me. I put a big yellow cam in and eventually suss out the next little sequence to what looks like a jug. I’ll get there, arrange some gear and then press on with confidence.
Unfortunately what looks like a jug is not always a jug, and the position is more strenuous than intended. My feet are on smears and my hands are sweating up. Shit, time to move.
I reach up to a juggy undercut flake and run my feet up the wall. That yellow cam seems far away now, and my position is seriously strenuous. It occurs to me that a knee-bar might be possible in theory, but there’s no way I have the juice to figure that out. I shove a cam under the flake, wasting energy. I know it’s bad but I don’t want to go all out with no more gear, although I also don’t want to hang around to place a better piece either. Failure is close now.
Giving it all I’ve got, I reach for a distant sidepull, body at full stretch, feet skating on smears. I let out a roar and urge them to move higher up, but it’s no use. Something snaps, and as I begin the ride I notice that my leg is behind the blue rope. I flip upside-down and have time to be thankful that my helmet is on my head. When I eventually come to a halt, sure enough, the last cam is dangling around my waist. I feel like I’ve been beaten up and there are grazes on both elbows and both knees.
“Can I maybe come down now, Ramon?” Graciously he agrees. I collapse on a boulder while he scopes out the escape, a VDiff corner. It doesn’t feel easy in this state. Sensing that I’m incapable of doing much else, Ramon instructs me to sit down while he abs for the gear. I don’t need much persuasion.